Tag Archives: political songs

Chicago III: Singing A Mean Tune On The Lowdown

Chicago were coming into a very interesting place in American culture in 1971. They had released two successful double albums-the latter actually being so much so that it bolstered up for the success of the debut. Yet it was an uncomfortable time for America itself. The Vietnam conflict raged on. And the youth culture of the 60’s were growing into adults right between the shootings at Kent State and the Watergate scandal. For their part, Chicago were themselves weary of a 1970 spent of near non stop touring. This resulted in an album of a different kind that I wrote an Amazon.com review for in 2009.


Three years into their stellar career after the huge success of their first two albums Chicago Transit Authority and Chicago II  Chicago apparently decided that they didn’t want to be too commercial.So they decided after having three smash hit singles already they wanted to cut something they wanted to.Pretty typical story from the early 70’s right? Well maybe but there is always twists.In this case Chicago already had a commercial sound to begin with so,if an arty album is what there was going for there would still be memorable aspects.

Basically this is an album divided into suits:there are 3 of them where all the songs run together.At the same time,for the purpose of CD presentation they are separated out into 23 separate cuts. All of these song,regardless of how they are presented with a very “live in the studio” flavor;it’s almost as if Chicago just all got behind the microphone and played,with little extra stuff added. That being so it says a lot for this band’s talents because this is some of the most vital, energetic and creative music Chicago created during…well a period of heavy creativity for them.

Fact is only the first four songs stand alone. “Sing A Mean Tune Kid” has a perfect Sly Stone riff and is one of Chicago’s funkiest jams;it runs on awhile and ends up in a Terry Kath solo but it’s great regardless.The “suite” that Terry does on the album is one of the best here-he called it “An Hour In The Shower”.Terry was always represented the gruffer voiced, rockier aspect of Chicago’s sound and the five tunes he presents,in very ragged glory are consistent and hang very well together. Robert Lamm’s “travel suite” is more musically erratic but includes some excellent tunes.

There’s the jazzy funk jam “Free” is short but the closest thing this album had to a hit.”Mother” is another nice R&B rocker with some rich sonic power while the folksy charm of “Flight 602” and the light pop balladry of “Happy ‘Cause I’m Going Home” are also okay but not fantastic.The final suite,called “elegy” is the most impressive;the album cover features the familiar Chicago logo sewn into a very faded and weather damaged American flag. And the spoken word poem “When All The Laughter Dies In Sorry”,as morbid as it is make it clear the early 70’s was filled with seemingly un-resolvable issues.

One tune that makes the same point even more clearly is “Progress?”,an instrumental starting with gentle horns which get “progressively” louder and more chaotic,to the point of playing along with the inner city sound of drills and car horns:it takes a very impressionistic and implicit “united funk” era message song flavor. On “The Approaching Storm” and “Man Vs Man:The End” we’re treated to two very intense horn based jams that are equally chaotic.

Upon a brief inspection this album follows the same basic conceptual formula as the first two Chicago recordings but at the same time the rough n’ funky sound of the production as well as the virtual lack of singles potential make this a definite AOR delight.The bands flutist Walter Parazaider said of in the liner notes to this album that Chicago never made “cookie cutter” music.Lucky for them Chicago were able to reach out to their audience with their journey of musical creativity rather then alienate them with a lot of self indulgent tricks.

That’s why it’s important to acknowledge the presence of funk in their music;funk,and jazz by degrees are music’s that are able to be ambitious AND reach out and touch the human heart and pulse in different ways. The fact that Chicago were able to integrate both genre’s so successfully into their sound is a testament to how they truly understood what they were doing.


Seeing that post 60’s America begin to unfold before Chicago, both in their travels and through audience observation perhaps, is a key element to understanding what Chicago III is as an album. Even as a writer, have to acknowledge that I didn’t understand how Chicago’s sound was changing so organically. This particular album was not Chicago’s most popular one. And its somber thematic content might’ve contributed to that situation. It still showcased a band, straight out of the 60’s musical ethic of expanding public musical taste-shaping songs that set out to get people thinking about their world.

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Let Me See Your ID” by Artists Against Apartheid featuring Kurtis Blow, Melle Mel, Duke Bootee and Gil Scott-Heron

Kurtis Blow, starting life in 1959 Harlem as Kurtis Walker, graduating from becoming a student of communications and ministry to becoming the first major hip-hop MC to have a substantial hit with 1980’s disco based rap classic “The Breaks”. He had a string of hits in from the early to late 1980’s. By 1994, he’d become an ordained minister. He was also noted as an early example of hip-hop interpreting itself when Nas made a cover version of Blow’s “If I Ruled The World” in 1996. It was Blow’s strong pro black stance against racism that led him into perhaps the most socially significant projects of his career.

In 1985, E Street Band guitarist Steven Van Zandt put together an album project called Artists Against Apartheid, which featured over 50 musicians,singers and rappers in protest against the oppressively racist South African government. Artists such as Miles Davis, Herbie Hancock and percussionist Ray Buretto signed on. Along with rappers Grandmaster Melle Mel, Kurtis Blow,Duke Bootee,the late Nigerian musician Sonny Okosun and also late iconic jazz/funk poet/singer Gil-Scott Heron got together for a massively topical collaboration from this album “Let Me See Your ID”.

The percussive drum machines and turntabling of the late Jam Master Jay begin this song-with Melle Mell and Blow’s rapping before Miles’s impressionist trumpet textures plays over Gil Scott Heron’s poetic sections of the song. By this point in the song, Miles’ bassist of the time Doug Wimbish throws down some heavy duty funk slap bass. During the bridge of the song, Sonny Okosun sings his own lyrics while the conga’s of Ray Buretto come in and provide an extra rhythmic kick to the song for its final versus and chorus before it all comes to a stop.

“Let Me See Your ID” is one of the most superb early jazz/Afro-pop/hip-hop collaborations of its time. Musically, it showcases how vital heavy rhythm is linking all of these elements together. As for the songs lyrical cause, it has Melle Mell and Kurtis Blow earnestly rapping against racist government systems. Whereas Gil Scott-Heron’s poetic narrations provide his mixture of down home scholarly wit to the lack of knowledge many Americans have of the third world itself-never mind its problems. Its a song that, especially in light of today’s political climate, should be gone back to in a serious way.

 

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Anatomy of THE Groove: “Tin Foil Hat” by Todd Rundgren featuring Donald Fagen

Todd Rundgren has been one of those DIY singer/songwriter/musician/producer’s who was successfully able to meld his many talents into collaborative projects. Coming out of The Nazz into his own solo career,through Utopia and onward. Yet it wasn’t until his most recent solo album White Night,released just over a month ago. The majority of the album concentrated on collaborations with a diverse range of artists. Among them old friend Daryl Hall and one particular partnership that really got me personally interested: one with Steely Dan’s Donald Fagen.

This particular collaboration came during a time when America and to a degree much of the Western World is in great turmoil. It was turmoil that actually stopped me from writing this blog for a week or so. Unlike the post 9/11 years happily, very few American artists have any fear in challenging the disastrous presidency of Donald Trump. In fact,Rundgren made news (even on Fox) regarding his desire not to have Trump supporters in his concert audiences causing trouble.  All of this is presented as part of his collaboration with Fagen entitled “Tin Foil Hat”.

A bluesy,vibraphone like two note keyboard line opens the song unaccompanied. Following that,electronic drums come in playing what seems to be a slow jazzy swing in 6/8 time. After that another keyboard comes in playing an organ type part-with that opening line assisting a swinging bass keyboard and guitar (or guitar like) tone. On the choruses,the chord changes to a slightly higher one before descending back into the refrain via a brief re-appearance of the organ style solo. By the final choruses, a bluesy piano joins the affair before the songs comes to an abrupt stop.

“Tin Foil Hat” is a song that addresses the entire Trump fiasco so well. Instrumentally,its a classic R&B/jazz/blues shuffle in Fagen’s classic style-with Rundgren’s vocal effects and own musical touches going right alongside it. Presented here is an accompanying music video,which has the songs wry and biting humor but also has a mild dire element of conspiracy theorists in high positions constantly foreseeing a coming apocalypse. Its an example of a funky,bluesy and soulful type song in 2017 delivering a message for the American people with both humor and effective social commentary.

 

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If You Don’t Vote,You Don’t Count-A Message From Andre’ Cymone.

America is,as if today,about to come upon the most critical presidential election I’ve personally lived through. The frightening presence of Donald Trump as a candidate as raised many uncomfortable questions about what sort of people Americans are. 2016 is also a year that saw the death of Prince. His close childhood friend and lyrical inspiration Andre’ Cymone wrote this rockabilly style number a few years ago encouraging people to vote. For today,I’ll just post this video above with its lyrics printed below. All in hopes you,the reader,will be encouraged to exercise your most important American right tomorrow.

Vote to make a difference…If you don’t vote, you don’t count…
lyrics

VOTE

I come from a neighborhood
They won’t spend
No money to make it shine
The rich
With all the power
Buy off politicians
And leave the common folk behind
That’s why you gotta

Vote, make a difference
You don’t vote, you don’t count
Vote, make a difference
You don’t vote
Then you can’t complain

I, I need an answer
Why is it so hard
To treat the people right
The populations changin
All across our nation
And we don’t need no guns
To be the winner in this fight
That’s why you got to

Vote, make a difference
You don’t vote, you don’t count
Vote, make a difference
You don’t vote
Then you can’t complain

Let me ask you a question
Which party started a 12 year war
Here’s another question
Who always opens the window
While the other one closes the door

Last vote
We got Obama
But he can’t pass
These laws all by himself
He needs a team
Who understands all our needs
And won’t let corporations
Put our dreams up on a shelf
That’s why you got to

Vote, make a difference
You don’t vote, baby you don’t count
Vote, make a difference
You don’t vote
Then you can’t complain

Man what you mean
You ain’t gon vote… man
Don’t you realize that’s how they win….Who’s they?
They’s the corporations, The rich, the ones that don’t wanna
See the average person make the same kinda money so they can quit workin for them.
You seen what happened in Ferguson, they didn’t vote, five per cent turn out, no you gotta do better than that, you wanna see representation that looks like you , feels like you, does the things that you wanna see done in your future… You gotta get out there and vote.
If you don’t vote, you don’t count.

The time is now
To take control of your life
Too many people died
For us to win that right

Ain’t nothin cool
About sittin elections out
You wanna save this world
Sign up and join the fight

Vote, make a difference
You don’t vote, baby you don’t count
Vote, make a difference
You don’t vote
Then you can’t complain

 

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Filed under 2016, America, Andre Cymone, Donald Trump, message music, message songs, political songs, presidential elections, progressive music, voting

Andresmusictalk Takes A Stand

Stop Killing Black People

Today I’d planned to bring you perhaps another Anatomy of THE Groove segment,or another list based article about jazz,funk and soul music. Every human being has a heart somewhere though. I’m no exception to that,and my heart is broken. Within the last three days,two innocent black American men in Alton Sterling and Philando Castile were murdered by the police. Yesterday,a Black Lives Matter protest in Dallas,Texas erupted into violence against the police.  The situation has gotten to such a critical state, it seems like right time to set the record straight as to what Andresmusictalk stands for.

Over the past couple of years,grooves with a message have been over-viewed here. Especially in times of crisis such as outbreaks of violence. And in my home state of Maine the election of Mister Paul LePage to the position of state governor. As much as it might be inappropriate to bring personal views and feelings to this blog,the national situation has gone beyond too far. Day after day,social networks such as Facebook are filled with racist rhetoric-from posted memes to comments. And in many states,including my own,open carry gun laws have turned private citizens into potential vigilantes.

I am personally many things. Black,Latino and openly gay are among them. Yet everyday American’s who are any or all of these things are being made to feel as if they’ve done something terribly wrong. For example,when people such as Treyvon Martin,Michael Brown,Freddie Gray,Tamir Rise and now Alton Sterling and Philando Castile are murdered by police,it is quickly dismissed as a misunderstanding-with the murdered party painted as a “potential criminal element”.  When police are murdered such as in Dallas,most of the nation stand behind them without question.

These contradictory actions have officially proven to me that America today has become nearly totally based on the racial privilege of white people in particular. Through the articles done here,I’ve tried to imply that empathy,not xenophobia,is the solution to a lot of these peoples. So many other people do that in their own way,too. Sadly,few seem to even be listening. So wanted to clarify these matters: this blog is against prejudice  and racism. It’s against the murder of the innocent based on skin color and other non criminal matters. And most importantly it’s against homophobia,ableism and white privilege.

What it does stand for wholeheartedly is music. Music to get people in the mind of doing the dance we call life. And often music with a direct message. Here are some songs to listen to that musically describe today’s situation very well. No over-view from me today. Just listen and dance to the funky and soulful people music.

Don’t Call Me Nigger,Whitey/Sly & The Family Stone

Ball Of Confusion/The Tempations

If There’s A Hell Below,We’re All Going To Go/Curtis Mayfield

Am I Black Enough For You/Billy Paul

Winter In America/Gil Scott-Heron

Black Man/Stevie Wonder

System Of Survival/Earth Wind & Fire

Ghetto Woman/Janelle Monae

Baltimore/Prince

*”Peace is more than the absence of war”-Prince (1958-2016) paraphrasing a quotation from Albert Einstein (1879-1955)

 

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Filed under 2016, Alton Sterling, Dallas, Freddie Gray, gun violence, message songs, Michael Brown, Philando Castile, police brutality, political songs, racism, racist murder, Tamir Rice, Treyvon Martin, Uncategorized, white privilege

Prince Summer: “Sign O The Times” (1987)

Prince was one of the most important figures for advancing funk during the early to mid 1980’s. Funk is the music that represents the rhythms and messages of black America from the late 20th century onward. Free jazz artist James Blood Ulmer once said jazz is the teacher,funk is the preacher. During the early 80’s,the emerging genre of hip-hop was extended on funk’s sociopolitical messages. Because of Prince’s stripped down sound, frank lyrics and appeal to Generation X,The Roots’ Amir Questlove Thompson has even suggested that Prince’s purple funk is a form of hip-hop.

Prince was a very busy man in 1986 in terms of recorded. He recorded enough music for at least three albums that year. While he and Warner Bros argued over how much to edit this material into releasable form,America was facing some major challenges. AIDS was a massive epidemic that was being ignored by the government,gun violence,natural disasters and the destruction of the space shuttle Challenger were inspired many Americans to again raise their voices with some level of protest. Prince decided to protest in his own way in July 1986 when he recorded the song “Sign O The Times”.

Prince gets the song started with a brittle synth snare pulse,accented by brushing percussion even on the two beat end of the rhythm pattern. This is accompanied by a round,dripping synth line playing a funky rhythm guitar type melody. He hits on the live snares during the main chorus of the song-while using a Fairlight sampler to provide the bluesy funk slap bass line. After that refrain,Prince accompanies himself on another more orchestral synth with a rocked up blues guitar lead. On the refrains,all these instruments play in closer unison in the same higher key-until the song fades out on it’s chorus.

Musically speaking,this song is something of a culmination of Prince’s approach as a multi instrumentalist. It’s still got the stripped down rhythms that he pioneered earlier in the 80’s decade. The big difference comes from the approach. Prince had begun to use early electronic samplers on this song-singling out live instrumental bass solo’s (for example) rather than providing a synth bass line. The song also doesn’t feature a synth brass line simulating horns. Everything about the song focuses on the rhythm section. The guitar,bass and drums all have a crawling,bluesy funk flavor within their groove.

Lyrically this songs message rings disturbingly true-especially now. As the news about Omar Mateen,the New Yorker who committed this mass shooting in Orlando Florida, continues to unfold,the media has been asking the question of what kind of nation has America become to almost tacitly accept mass gun violence as an inevitable reality. This song asked questions like that 30 years ago. Prince illustrates seeming passive suicide amid American’s in various ways-even saying “Some say a man ain’t happy unless a man truly dies-oh why?”. If Prince could ask the question,today’s America can answer it.

*To Support Victims Of The Orlando Mass Shooting,Click here!

 

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Filed under 1987, blues funk, drum machine, drums, Fairlight synthesizer, Funk Bass, gun violence, lead guitar, message songs, Minneapolis, Minneapolis Sound, political songs, Prince, Sampling, synthesizers, Uncategorized